Monday, October 30, 2006
One Year in L.A.
Dia de los Muertos is upon us again and I realize that I've been in L.A. for more than one year now. The Santa Ana wind and the fires arrived soon after we did last September, and now they're back. Looking back at some posts of mine soon after arriving here, they seem a bit giddy. I was excited about having palm trees in my yard. There was so much great Thai food. They actually had book stores in L.A.!
Obviously, the early buzz of a new place will fade, and my infatuation with L.A. waned. The weather stayed the same. All the time. I got stuck in traffic. I woke up in the morning and coughed up phlegm regularly, though I wasn't sick. Driving at night, the sidewalks and streets were empty. There was only block after block of empty strip malls, with neon signs for agua puro or check cashing. The flashing lights around the Burrito King or the Tommy Burger seemed sort of cheery at first, but eventually became garish and depressing. The public transportation system was criminally, intentionally underdeveloped.
The people cared so much about how they and their stupid fucking cars looked. Roughly 75% of a given issue of the "progressive" LA Weekly was composed of ads for plastic surgery, body enhancements, various skin procedures and treatments. In the LA Times there were loving (albeit excellent) columns on the "Car Culture" that people in L.A. apparently take pride in. We got sick of the garlic sauce at Zankou Chicken. We kept on realizing things were over three hours earlier back on the East Coast. The selfish, self-absorbed people, so unaccustomed to ever having to share any type of public space, insisted on stepping into elevators before letting people in the elevators out first. They acted annoyed when someone inside the elevator actually had to get out first. Who were these people getting in their way? They had a right to 6 feet of space around them at all times, encased in glass and steel. It was so irritating to actually have to be near other people.
I couldn't understand the people at the office. Unlike in New York, complaining was not an Olympic sport. Complaining was negative, the bad vibes brought people down. People didn't want that negativity. There was a lot of pride in "making it happen". People strove to be winners, to be successful while not complaining, cheerily doing their work, balancing it with a healthy lifestyle. The whole positive mentality thing got me down. It made me feel like a greasy, whiny loser. Here were all these fit people brimming with sunshine and confidence, their clear skin glowing with health. What kind of fucked of place was this?
I don't hate L.A. It's a strange, disturbing, but endlessly fascinating place. Much of it is miserable to look at and crawl through behind Porsche Cayennes and Arrowhead delivery trucks, but one is often rewarded by finding magical places among the general asphalt void. I've found friends among soccer teams and book groups across the city. I wish there were more places people could come together and feel as if they were part of something together. The way it is, it feels like the city has been designed to prevent this very thing. Big talk from me, as I sit typing this in the "study" of our house on a leafy street in the faux-suburb of Eagle Rock, on the far northeastern fringe of the city. L.A. is not a city the way New York is a city. It's something else. It's certainly quite fucked up, dysfunctional, and unlovely. But having been here for a year now, I find myself rooting for this place. This is such a beautiful and wonderful place for a city, between the mountains and the sea. Whatever and whoever (if anything or anyone) designed this place did their darndest to truly mess it up. It could be so much more. And when you're out on one of those gloriously, deliriously beautiful L.A. days, maybe after it's just rained and the air smells clean and fresh, you can imagine what L.A. could be, and you really want to see it.